(This is a post from almost a year ago that for some reason, WordPress destroyed. For those who are interested, the queen mentioned below is doing very well still and we now have four hives and a spare on a roof somewhere hoping to lure a swarm into it.)
Being Queen is a lonely thing….
I visited my bees today and they’re all doing well. I have currently
three colonies: one hive that is quite populous, one that is less so
and one that is tiny. The tiny one is one I created about three weeks
ago when faced with the hard choice of what to do with a couple of
queen cells that needed disposing of.
(A little bee background: bees basically consist of three kinds. Workers
and queens are female and drones are male. Drones do nothing but wait
around in the hope that a virgin queen will emerge somewhere in the
vicinity and they can mate with her: it’s a great life while the sun
shines. They get fed by workers, do no work and just buzz around all
day waiting for their chance with a queen. Incidentally, they die
straight after this. They die in the winter or the workers kill them
off. But bees exist to make more bees(the honey is just their winter
stores) and the problem from May onwards is swarms. You let your bees
swarm and you lose half your colony. We lost half of ours because
they waited till we went away on holiday and then buggered off. So
one of the things you need to do to try and avoid swarming is to
knock out queen cells. A queen cell is a long tube of beeswax, where
the workers rear a single egg by feeding it with royal jelly until
after 16 days a new queen emerges).
We found two queen cells when we opened the hive that day. One hatched
in my hand and I accidentally dropped her; I have no idea where she
went. The other felt warm and alive in my hand and I couldn’t bring
myself to do what a seasoned bee-keeper would have done and thrown
the queen cell away. I made a sudden instinctive decision and took
two frames of brood and nurse bees to our spare hive and gently
mashed the end of the queen cell onto a corner of it, shut the hive
up and walked away. Bees will always rear brood and eggs and they
will always minister to a queen so there was a good chance that I had
started a new colony in doing so.
I felt a little odd about it because I had simply felt that what I held
in my hand was what you might call, “a good ‘un”. I had no
evidence or logic for this: just pure feeling. However, it appears I
was right. The new queen had emerged, mated and begun laying when I
came back a week later. For a few weeks she was the only one of our
three queens who WAS laying. Today, in my inspection, I actually
spotted her, swift as a little greyhound and the frame was filled
with eggs and brood. A real good ‘un. I am glad I obeyed that tingle
in my hand and mind that said “Let her have a chance”. I suspect
that over the next few years, she may more than pay me back.
But this evening I had been pondering over the model of the bees and it
occurred to me that being queen is terribly lonely. Bees sense when a
queen is failing and they “supersede”: that is, they rear a new
queen and quietly let the old one go. Sometimes they kill her.
Sometimes a bee keeper decides a queen is not what he wants and
replaces her. Either she’s getting too old, or she’s not laying
enough or the temperament of the colony isn’t right. Bye bye Queenie.
I could draw parallels with the book world (and they exist all right)
but I won’t labour the point, because writers create stories(honey)
and Queens lay eggs to make more bees. But what I really want you to
understand is that those who are at the pinnacle of what they are or
do are in a precarious place. They won’t be the best forever. They
won’t be at the top forever. And coming down, they may meet those
they may have climbed over to get to the top.
So, be kind and gracious as you make your journey through the world;
everyone you meet has private battles and sorrows of their own. Their
life might look sweet and honey-scented from where you are but you
don’t know what it cost them to get there, how hard they must work to
stay there and how easy it is to lose.